Film Review: Criss Cross (1949)

Release Date: January 19th, 1949 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Robert Siodmak
Written by: Daniel Fuchs
Based on: Criss Cross by Don Tracy
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea, Stephen McNally, Alan Napier

Universal Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“I should have been a better friend. I shoulda stopped you. I shoulda grabbed you by the neck, I shoulda kicked your teeth in. I’m sorry Steve.” – Det. Lt. Pete Ramirez

Working my way through a lot of film-noir for the month of Noirvember, this is one of the ones that really stands out. In fact, Criss Cross could be a top five noir for me.

Burt Lancaster plays Steve Thompson. He is perfectly cast for this film, as he literally lives in every scene where he is on screen. He’s handsome, he’s tough, he’s clever and there is just an air about the guy that glows through the celluloid.

Then you have Dan Duryea, who is just so good at playing stylish slime balls. While I enjoyed Duryea’s work in Fritz Lang’s Woman In the Window and Scarlet Street, both opposite of Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson, his villainous Slim Dundee, in this film, takes the cake. He’s an awful bastard in this and he’s spectacular.

Yvonne De Carlo is enchanting and viscous as Steve’s ex-wife and forced lover of Slim. She plays a hardened woman yet still a damsel in distress… or is that just her angle? While she had to compete with two powerful and charismatic men in this film, she held her own and felt at home in this picture.

The film starts with a powerful theme, as soon as the credits roll. You immediately get dragged in and watching the behind-the-scenes machinations of how the armored truck driver job works, is fascinating. The director, the great Robert Siodmak, and the cinematographer, the veteran Franz Planer, did a fantastic job showing this world in a visual sense. Plus, there are just some great shots in this film, particularly when the armored truck arrives at the plant for the big setup and we get a nice bird’s eye tracking shot of the truck traversing between the buildings.

Criss Cross is a true film-noir in every sense. It’s got the lead that falls for a textbook femme fatale, gets in over his head because of the girl, does some dirt and despite his unfortunate circumstances, has to face the music for his actions.

This isn’t a great film because it has a perfect noir narrative, many noir pictures hit the right narrative notes. In the case of Criss Cross, it has a great cast, a great director and cinematographer with great eyes, it’s great technically and everything just sort of comes together like magic.

Criss Cross is one of the best film-noirs of the classic era.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Split Second (1953)

Release Date: May 2nd, 1953
Directed by: Dick Powell, Fred Fleck (assistant)
Written by: Irving Wallace, Chester Erskine
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Stephen McNally, Alexis Smith, Jan Sterling, Keith Andes

RKO Radio Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You ever been locked up? Some people can stand it and some people can’t. The ones who can’t would kill themselves and anybody else just to get out for five minutes.” – Sam Hurley

Split Second is a really unique film-noir. It taps into the post-World War II paranoia about the effects of nuclear bombs and radiation. While this sort of plot point was typically reserved for sci-fi films featuring kaiju or giant insects, RKO Radio Pictures took a shot at it in the context of a noir picture.

The film is directed by Dick Powell, a guy synonymous with noir, who starred in several, most notably: Murder, My SweetPitfall and Johnny O’Clock. It stars Stephen McNally, who was most known for westerns, which fit well for the desert setting of this film. Plus, he also dabbled in noir. He was a detective in Robert Siodmak’s highly regarded Criss Cross.

The premise for this film is simple. An escaped killer holds a doctor’s wife and other people hostage in an old Nevada ghost town. Unbeknownst to him, it is an atomic bomb testing site and the government is going to drop a bomb on them.

Unfortunately, for a film with a really interesting premise, it isn’t all that exciting. It’s kind of drab and drawn out, even at just 85 minutes. It’s just full of a lot of drama between the criminal and his hostages in a cabin in the ghost town. He argues, he slaps people around, he shoots them if he has to but none of it really holds any weight and isn’t something you haven’t seen a million times. It’s a fairly mundane hostage movie and not much more, really.

This is a film that needed to build suspense but it fails to do so. You don’t really like anyone, even the good guys, and you just kind of wish the government would move up the time of the bombing. They do at the very end, actually.

It’s not particularly well acted but it isn’t poorly acted, it’s just very bland and feels like it’s missing something. Maybe there should have been less hostages, this group just feels like a lot of people that, if they played their cards right, would be able to overcome their captor fairly easily.

I also had to shake my head when the people escaped the atomic bomb by hiding in a mine and then after it went off, walked out of the mine and declared it safe. I’m pretty sure people in the 1950s had already known that atomic bombs breed radiation and that radiation is really, really bad.

Rating: 6/10